I don’t often post political pieces. In fact, this may be a first. But as I sit at my desk writing this, I find myself deeply troubled by our current state of affairs. In our nation, the term, separation of Church and state, has been aggressively employed in an effort to remove any influence of religion or faith from the public sphere. We live in a nation where we are proud of our ability to compartmentalize our morality and beliefs – effectively neutering them from any practical application within the society in which we live. And, as a people we wouldn’t dream of “imposing” our beliefs or morality on anyone else.
We are the “good men” who nevertheless do nothing while evil accomplishes it’s purposes, and we console ourselves with the reminder that our religion must never influence our politics. [Tweet This]
We are loyal sons of the state, and as such we believe wholeheartedly that the Church has no place within it’s boundaries. The merest imagination of an integration of Church and state, the very idea of bringing our religious beliefs to bear on our current sociopolitical sphere, makes us break out in a cold sweat.
Take for instance our current political candidates.
Render Unto Caesar…
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, claims to be a Christian, yet virtually every time he opens his mouth at political rallies and press conferences he makes statements that are in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. The Huffington Post recently posted an article listing Trump’s “beatitudes” and comparing them to Christ’s actual words. Here are just a few examples:
|Jesus ~ “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.1 “||Trump: “My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons.”|
|Jesus ~ “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.2 “||Trump: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”|
|Jesus ~ “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.3 ”||Trump: “When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”|
|Jesus ~ “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.4 ”||Trump: “Why do I have to repent, why do I have to ask for forgiveness if [I’m] not making mistakes?”|
|Jesus ~“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.5 ”||Trump: “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”|
|Jesus ~“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.6 “||Trump: “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!”|
|Jesus ~ “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.7 ”||Trump: “When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness.”|
Personal or Political?
Meanwhile, Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee for vice president, is a Catholic who very clearly delineates between his “personal positions” and his political policies.
“I have a traditional Catholic personal position, but I am very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn’t intrude,” Kaine said. “I’m a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and women being able to make these decisions. In government, we have enough things to worry about. We don’t need to make people’s reproductive decisions for them.”
And as Christians we’re pretty okay with the nominations. Evangelical Christians are flocking to Trump in waves while liberal Catholics praise Kaine for keeping his personal beliefs out of public policy. Separation of Church and state indeed. But I think it is high time for a different approach.
An Integration of Church and State
Perhaps a better way to say it would be, “I want to see an integration between people’s faith and their life.”
Look, wordplay aside, I’m not looking for the United States to become a theocracy. I don’t want the Church involved in making political decisions. But that’s really not what we’re talking about here is it? We’re talking about how adept we as individuals have become at separating our faith and morals from every other aspect of our life.
For a political candidate to state that they are personally opposed to something due to their religious or moral beliefs, but that they believe that their “personal moral opinions” shouldn’t affect government policy is ludicrous. If we substituted any other human rights issue for the discussion that is currently taking place regarding abortion we would immediately see just how ridiculous this is.
“Due to my religious beliefs and upbringing, I believe that the objectification of women and their use as sex slaves is morally reprehensible. I also am personally against using violence to force women into sexual acts. Having said that, I support the rapist’s right to choose and would never dream of imposing my own personal beliefs on him! Pornagraphy is legal in the US and it provides legal employment for tens of thousands – surely the good that pornagraphers bring to the economy outweighs the unfortunate aspects of their trade?”
“I am personally against slavery. Nonetheless, I will not enforce my own personal morality on others, nor do I think that the government should. In this country slavery is legal, and slaveholders should have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they own slaves. It is ultimately a landholders own decision what he does with his property. Just because I personally disagree with his choices doesn’t mean that I would object to the law of the land!”
When it comes to abortion, I don’t want to “break” the law of the land. The law is already broken. I want to see it fixed. US law used to uphold slavery. The law was wrong. It was broken. It needed to be fixed. And it required lawgivers who were willing to challenge the laws of the land in the greater interest of human rights. The law has been wrong many times in the past. It is wrong now on a number of issues. We should, as people of principle, seek to change the law, rather than using it as an excuse for our own lack of character and resolve.
“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” John Stuart Mill8
Abortion as a Human Rights Issue
With that in mind, I don’t believe that human rights issues are a matter of imposing ones religious beliefs on others. The state forms laws that protect human rights and enforce morality all the time; virtually every nation has laws against slavery, murder, rape, theft and so forth. If they don’t, we tend to try and compel them to change their laws on human rights issues by means of economic sanctions and the like. I’ve yet to hear anyone object to any of these state mandated laws on the grounds that the religious beliefs and personal moral opinions of others are being imposed on them…
When it comes to the abortion issue I would simply point out that the question of when human life begins isn’t really a religious question (or a matter of personal opinion) but rather a scientific question.
We can demonstrate that the unborn are alive because they take in nutrients and grow via cellular reproduction. We can demonstrate that the unborn have human DNA and are produced by human parents and are therefore human beings. Embryologist E.L. Potter points out that, “Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite, a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”
It seems logical that since the unborn are living growing human beings in a particular stage of natural development, then their basic human rights should be protected by the state in the same manner that the state is responsible to protect any other human beings rights. Arbitrarily denying them basic human rights because they are at a particular stage of natural human development seems to be a logically weak position in addition to being morally problematic.
Citizens of Another Kingdom
In St. Peter’s first epistle we are reminded that we are “aliens and strangers” in this world.9 But, somehow we have forgotten that we are not truly citizens of this, or any other, earthly nation. We have forgotten that our first allegiance isn’t to this country or its laws, but to a heavenly kingdom with Christ as it’s head.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”10
As Christ’s emissaries in this world, we have an obligation to speak, and act, on behalf of His kingdom. Obviously this should be done in charity and with mercy, but the reality is our Christian faith should influence every aspect of our life.
We desperately need Christian men and women who are not afraid to take a stand for their faith and who are actively engaging with the culture around us. We need Christians who allow Christ to work through them to bring truth to every aspect of our culture; medicine and bioethics, arts and entertainment, commerce and industry, immigration and services for the poor, and yes, even to the political sphere.
I don’t want politicians representing us who claim the title of Christian while denying the message and example of Christ. I’m tired of Christians who have been conformed to this world, rather than allowing Christ to transform and renew their minds so that they can discern the will of God – that which is good and acceptable and perfect.11 And yes, all too often I include myself in their number.
Lord have mercy.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”12
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